ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Nov 13 2014

From 1966 to 1989, abortion was banned and criminalized in communist Romania leaving generations of women dependent on rudimentary means of birth -control. Historians estimate that around 10,000 women lost their lives during the period due to botched abortions and abortion related complications.

Under the said circumstances, few nationals believed it possible of an anti-choice movement to irrupt and consolidate in Romania. However the impossible did turn into a reality and a stronger anti-choice movement is growing at a fast pace.

From the debut of the autumn of 2014, 27 anti-choice organizations began an intimidation campaign against a youth friendly sexuality education platform. The anti-choice movement mapped the youth sex educator’s public appearances and filed complaints against such events with local authorities in a clear attempt to contain the dissemination of science based sexuality education.

From smearing and intimidation tactics, what is now a Romanian anti-choice movement also employs more commonplace instruments for advancing its homophobic and anti-women messages. For example, the movement sent out several open letters during September and November addressed to the Romanian government where the main message has been against civil unions and against the acknowledgement of same sex couples as couples. The homophobic messages set forth by organizations affiliated with Pro Vita International also consisted of anti-choice and anti-gender messages claiming that the new ideology of “gender-ism” is threatening national and Christian values as well endangering national birth rates. This approach is similar to other recent European wide initiatives working on the denigration of the term gender and its proponents such as women’s rights advocates, LGTBQI movement and sexuality educators. A late bloomer, the anti-choice movement in Romania is publishing and launching books with titles such as “The Global Sexual Revolution: Destroying freedom in the name of freedom”.

The links between anti-choice movement and mainstream politics are also becoming more apparent with politicians embracing anti-choice messages on the entire Romanian political spectrum. In the context of presidential elections, all major candidates when pushed on the issue of abortion responded that “the uncontrolled abortion” phenomenon needs to limited or at best some candidates said that they do yet have a clear opinion. One candidate in particular, a woman and an independent backed by numerous civil society representatives wrote in her presidential program that her candidacy will take responsibility for the rights of the unborn. While a minor candidate in the presidential run-offs, such wide and unchallenged acceptance of anti-choice messages is a clear sign that women’s rights groups need to be on alert! Anti-choice movement is no longer a silent presence but a worrisome, mainstream adversary.

Written by Irina Costache, Romania, A.L.E.G.

Nov 03 2014

The EuroNGOs annual conference was held in Madrid, Spain, on 30-31 October. It was hosted by EuroNGOs Spanish member - the Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal (FPFE). It gathered the sexual and reproductive health and rights community, and its partners, among it several ASTRA representatives. This event took place a month after the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, where the official post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations were launched, to spread ideas, analyse information, share intelligence and promote strategic thinking to support the SRHR community to influence the post-2015 negotiations; promote alliance building and international coordination, clarify positions and seek common ground to support the SRHR community advocacy work until September 2015 and mobilize organizations and individuals.

During the conference the Central and Eastern European region had been mentioned and discussed several times. This happened especially in the context of the rising opposition towards SRHR in the region, European Union and the West-East divide, the worrying influence of Russia on neighbouring countries in regard to anti-LGBT propaganda and laws hampering the works of national NGOs. Additionaly several voices from the region have raised the issue of CEE visibilty on international arena and the need to include its specifics in international discussions.


Oct 30 2014

13 organizations from Poland created a CEDAW Coalition to prepare an alternative report to the governmental report on the realization of the CEDAW Convention in 2011. The governmental report was not released until 2014. In 2013 the organizations were invited to the consultations on the governmental report but not many suggestions were taken into consideration and incorporated into the final version.

Poland was reviewed by the Committee at its 59th Session, on the 22nd of October. The representation of the CEDAW Coalition (6 persons) was present in Geneva at the session.

Oct 27 2014

Regional Beijing 20-Year Review Processes  - which involve the preparation of regional reports and the organization of regional intergovernmental meetings - are being undertaken in all five regions by the United Nations regional commissions: ‪#‎Beijing20 review meeting for the European region will take place in Geneva on 6-7 November and will be preceded by an NGO Forum organized by The NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Geneva.

To learn more about the NGO Forum click here.

For more information and documentation on the Beijing+20 Regional Review Meeting click here


Oct 22 2014

Written by Hillary Margolis

Poland is one of a select few countries in Europe where access to abortion remains extremely limited: it’s a crime to terminate a pregnancy except in cases of risk to the mother’s life or health, severe fetal abnormality, or rape. In Europe, only Ireland and Malta have more restrictive laws.

The United Nations has taken Poland to task for its abortion laws and practices, and is likely to do so again today. After a visit in 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health called for the government to remove barriers to safe abortion. A UN expert body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, also criticized Poland’s abortion record in 2007. At a meeting today with Polish officials, this committee will undoubtedly focus on the lack of progress on access to safe, legal abortion.

Local groups in Poland note that women seeking abortion face stigma, intimidation, and misinformation from healthcare providers and clergy. Poland’s “conscience clause” under article 39 of the Doctor and Dentist Professions Act is a particular concern. Medical personnel may decline to perform abortion on the grounds that it conflicts with their personal values or beliefs. The law states that personnel must refer a woman to an alternate doctor or facility where she has a real possibility of obtaining services, but local women’s groups report that such referrals are often not made.

The conscience clause seems to be gaining ground: in May 2014, 3,000 people, mainly medical professionals, signed a “Declaration of Faith” asserting the “primacy” of religious over state law and saying they consider abortion and other reproductive services to be against their faith. Poland’s Catholic bishops endorsed the declaration. Donald Tusk, then-prime minister, reminded Polish medical practitioners that the obligation to provide comprehensive health care supersedes individual beliefs.

Such comments are welcome but insufficient. Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, should act quickly to safeguard women’s access to safe and legal abortion, even with the “conscience clause” in force. The state should ensure availability of doctors who do not invoke the conscience clause, and monitor referrals to other providers by those who are unwilling to perform abortions. The government should also institute a clear and rapid appeals process for women denied abortion, as mandated by the European Court of Human Rights.

“Conscientious objection” should not mean the evisceration of women’s human rights.  

Source: Human Rights Watch

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